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Guns Are In, Empathy Is Out

Terry H. Schwadron

Aug. 11, 2019

The week’s responses to the recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton have provided a kaleidoscope of images, sorrowful and angering, that show that disrespect, racial grating, gun insanity and downright uncomfortable politics are crawling just below the surface, even if we try to look the other way.

These shootings spawned unwanted debate not only about guns, mental illness and, weirdly, video games and a new movie that has not even debuted, but renewed speculation that Donald Trump lives in some other universe where words towards unity have no meaning, where hospital comfort calls are really celebrations of himself and not the shooting victims, where the president is deaf and blind to what the country is telling him.

We have a president who has no empathy for anyone outside his family and admirers. For Trump, visiting hospitals with shooting victims is a photo op. According to some accounts, most of the El Paso shooting victims declined to meet with Trump, yet the president insisted on sending out White House photos and videos that showed him meeting with hospital staff — because he didn’t like the publicity given to those criticizing him.

That the nervousness of those mass killings half a country away prompted a stampede in Times Square to the sound of a dirt bike misfire, that it underscored again the failings of our government to agree on solutions to address the epidemic of assault-style rifles on our streets, that it even prompted a Twitter uprising about a newspaper headline considered too politically tame (that was changed for the next edition) are all signs that require public attention. The country’s premier black author dies, a Nobel laureate, and nary a mention from the White House about her importance.

Take it all together, the shootings themselves, the stamping of political feet, the resounding feelings of hurt, and we should be quaking as we as a country look in the mirror. What if we as official America have lost the magic of being “American” as caring and inventive — traded it for new cars and ever-larger suburban homes (for some), for stock market dividends, and an army multiple times the size of the next three. Sorry if that sounds less than patriotic — you can send me back to where I came from, though that was Providence.

With the perspective of only a few days, it seems clear that we care more about protecting the rights of assault-style gun-owners than we do public safety, we care more about preserving a notion of white-majority America than anything nearing a reasonable and lasting approach to immigration issues, we are more interested in blame than in fixing things for ourselves and our children.

We had what seemed like more fuss about the decision of Democrats to label Trump a white supremacist than actually having a white supremacist, who tries occasionally to hide it by reading a staff-written speech, in the White House.

— Somehow, at the end of the week, we were still arguing about whether these mass killings with guns capable of shooting handfuls of people in under 30 seconds have anything to do with guns. We are still seeing the National Rifle Assn. whispering into Trump’s quavering policy ear not to let the obvious need for gun controls to take hold, though Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell now seemed open to a “conversation” on better background checks. Indeed, what we don’t immediately recognize is that gun control is largely a function of the states, and so we have more 50 different sets of rules, with no single federal reliable database of who owns what gun. We also have an active black market in guns.

— Somehow, we have Republicans in Washington leaning towards one tiny slice of unenforceable “red flag” policies to take away guns from mentally ill people who are adjudged to be a danger — and, from Trump, a policy to unseal criminal and mental health juvenile records Once you go through all the proving, it will be too late, of course, but, please bring it on. This policy is being sponsored by the same people who want to cut Obamacare and lessen monies and requirements for insurers to cover mental health care.

— Somehow, we are still unable to persuade our country at large that Trump is a racist and white supremacist who is stoking the uncomfortably true antipathies we maintain for black and brown, Jews and Muslims, immigrants and all who represent The Other. Instead, at least 40 percent of the country’s voters say they still stick with Trump, either outwardly denying the obvious or telling themselves that they are doing well enough personally despite his words and actions.

At the end of the day, we turn to our politics to Do Something!,as shouted at the Ohio governor, Mike DeWine, a Republican who these days is called a moderate. And our politics have told us Something.

They have help to identify and isolate Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as the obstinate roadblock to even considering House bills towards basic gun control. They have unified otherwise unherdable Democratic candidates for president around a message that Donald Trump is a failed moral leader as well as a failed governmental leader more generally. They have re-introduced the voices of Joe Biden, Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker, in particular, in their clear outspokenness against the president.

And they have re-introduced us to Trump himself, who showed us, Janus-like, that he could read words of calm from a teleprompter, but even while on his mission of comfort, turn insulter-in-chief all over again. Trump continues to reject the notion that his invective and inciting language had anything to do with the El Paso killer who quoted him in his zeal to murder in pursuit of stopping a “Hispanic invasion,” and Trump supporters continue to prove inventive, if horribly wrong, in blaming Democrats for the Dayton killer whose postings have also noted agreement with some anti-Trump statements by Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

It has become clear for yet new reasons to more and more of us that Trump is unfit for the presidency. Maybe Trump truly couldn’t see or feel the protests to his unwanted visit to El Paso and Dayton (or Toledo); it seems that he lacks not only empathy, but the actual ability to process information. How then can he function as president, never mind the over-the-top authoritarian leader he perceives himself to be.

Maybe this week is finally making clear to America what the 2020 elections mean. The vote will be a referendum on the racist, white supremacist, cultural ideology reflected by Trump. It Is a referendum on me-first, on giving companies a pass while you raid chicken-processing plants for undocumented workers without a thought about the children left abandoned, a referendum on hearing the endless sound of Trump patting himself on the back.

It is bad enough that the country can’t talk reasonably about any of these overlapping issues. What will be worse is if we do not make removing Trump a priority.

Maybe that ought to be the headline.


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